Gongfu (kungfu) and Trance

TranceAnother possible source of gongfu is as a form of physical training to survive trance. As I've already said, the trance-medium tradition was pervasive in China for most of its history. Full-on possession by a god, as happens in both African religion and Chinese religion, is extremely taxing on the body. Wild movements may toss, whip, shake and gyrate the possessed person. I suspect that at some time in the distant past, this experience was a near death one; people who were repeatedly possessed had shorted lives. Yet in Africa as in China people who become possessed have extraordinary physical training which allows them to survive, some even with radiant health. In Africa this training is dance, and in China, at least in Taiwan and the South East Asian Chinese Diaspora, it is gongfu.

The Third PrinceThis is also one of my favorate explanations for the difference between internal and external martial arts (neijia and waijia). In Africa and the African Diaspora, priests and drummers are required to be familiar with the rituals for each deity and his/her particular characteristics. For instance, a particular deity is invoked through specific rhythms, dances, songs, and sacrifices. A deity might be known for being jealous, carrying a sword, being female, being associated with the color green, having a sharp wit, and of course, wielding power in a particular realm. However, both priests and drummers are forbidden to become possessed by the deity. Should they become possessed they lose their ritual statues. They are experts in managing and differentiating the different types of human trance.

Chinese religion is very similar. Orthodox Daoist priests werePossessed at the Altar forbidden to become possessed yet their training involves becoming intimate with each type of trance. Daoism is, among many things, a systematic ordering of all types of deities by the characteristics of their local or national cults--and by the specific types of trance that lead to possessions by particular deities.

Taijiquan, xingyiquan, & baguazhang each teach different types of trance. Taijiquan, for instance, teaches peng, ji, lu, and an. Xingyi teaches the five 'phases' and the various animals.

External martial arts is training to survive possession by a deity. Internal martial arts is training to become familiar with the ways in which our bodies fall into trance so that we don't become possessed. What we know in the 'West' as Chinese martial arts is actually fall out from this religious tradition.

Here is a great article about trance-mediums in China.

Update: Because the term "priest" doesn't real translate perfectly into any language, it would be more accurate for me to say about African religion that atleast one person in a given ritual has the role of not going into trance.  Sometimes the "priest" may be the only person possessed.